The fretless fretboard: how to improvise using nothing but natural harmonics

Natural harmonics
(Image credit: Nico De Pasquale Photography)

Natural harmonics seem to possess some special power to captivate the human ear. Often described as ‘floating’, ‘glistening’, or ‘bell-like’, these curious tones are produced by lightly touching particular points along a string rather than pressing it down to the neck.

Taken together, they in essence offer us a second, invisible fretboard - albeit, one without any actual frets (or, for that matter, board). The exercises below will help you to build an inner ‘map’ of these hidden notes, and to organize them systematically for use in improvisation, composition, and wider playing.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

George Howlett is a London-based musician and writer, specializing in jazz, rhythm, Indian classical, and global improvised music.